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Rundle’s verdict on VP clash: Biden takes line honours but thirsty Ryan close behind

Most give today’s vice-presidential debate to Joe Biden — but who will win the spin? And can Obama build on Biden’s performance to resuscitate the flagging Democrats campaign?

Today’s debate between US Vice-President Joe Biden and Republican contender Paul Ryan was far more combative, interactive, and fact-heavy than the first presidential debate — and as to the winner, you can pick your own depending on your politics.

During the one and only vice-presidential debate of the election cycle, the blow-by-blow commentary from both Left and Right on Twitter and in live blogs favoured their own candidate, with the Right arguing that Biden had been smirking, over-aggressive and scattered towards the end of the debate — while many on the Left thought that Biden had done enormous damage to Ryan and the Republicans’ policies on Medicare and Afghanistan.

There is justice on both sides, but watching the post-debate commentary it was clear that right-wing outlets such as Fox News were focusing on the form of the debate, while the Left focused on the content.

From the start it was clear Biden was not going to make any of the mistakes of underselling and failing to contest Ryan, as President Barack Obama had done in the first debate. From the start Biden was ready to take the fight back to Ryan, who had the advantage of being able to project a series of unfounded promises, rather than defending a mixed record, both at home and abroad.

The debate began on tricky ground for Biden, with the question of the Benghazi consulate attack being uppermost, and repeated accusations of multiple stories being put about by the White House. Ryan was on solid and familiar ground, charging that the White House had taken their eye off the ball, on the anniversary of 9/11. Even here, however, Biden managed to snap back, arguing that Ryan’s budget plan would have reduced embassy security budgets by 300 million dollars.

Biden got another — and very telling — blow in when Ryan went after him on another vulnerable issue: the effectiveness of the stimulus, and the pallid nature of the economic recovery. Biden, unlike Obama, wasn’t afraid to make the failure of the Bush era front-and-centre, and also managed to get in a mention of a smoking pistol on Ryan’s side — that Ryan’s office had sent two letters to the White House seeking stimulus funds for projects in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin.

Ryan had earlier said that his office had sent such letters out without his knowledge, but he had to own up to them here. The moment was the first of a few moments that Ryan gave up as hostage to quick-cut ads. Biden also had to act fast on the Iran question, as Ryan managed to bang the old Republican charge that the Democrats were “weak on defense”. The alleged threat of Iran allows the Republicans to present a chest-beating version of national defence without being identified with adventures like Iraq — Biden’s move was to state that he had known “Bibi” (Netanyahu) for 40 years, that he’d been in the room when Obama spoke with Bibi etc, that Obama had gathered the world to its side etc etc, then Israel again … and it was all pretty nauseating to any even mildly leftish watchers but there you go.

Personally I thought Biden won it on most issues, and that Ryan was undermined repeatedly — but I suspect that each side will identify with its own in assessing wins and losses. On taxes and cutting spending, Ryan’s most telling blow was the argument that the Democrats’ plan to let Bush-era tax cuts for $1 million per year-plus people would inevitably turn into tax rises for people of lesser incomes, ringing a big bell for those who have been gobsmacked by the numbers behind the stimulus package.

Biden responded with some basic populist and utterly correct class warfare against another handout to the rich. Following some very specific exchanges on Ryan’s numbers, and how the Romney-Ryan team would pay for their tax cuts by “closing loopholes”, Biden again took a clear advantage on two issues: Medicare and Afghanistan. Here, the truly twisted nature of current US politics came out — Ryan, the fiscal conservative, is criticising the Democrats for “removing” $716 billion from the fund, which covers virtually all Americans 65+. Since this is a product of the Democrats projecting savings in Medicare — an utterly out-of-control programme — in part by instituting some spending ceilings, the debate has both sides twisted around.

Biden also broke out of the farm here, and spoke directly to camera, addressing senior citizens and asked them: “who do you trust? Who do you trust more to handle these basic institutions?” Since Ryan has advanced a voucher system for Medicare — which would force seniors to go and purchase their health insurance on an open market — Biden was on firm ground here. Ryan also tangled himself badly on Afghanistan, arguing that US forces should be getting out, but that they should also be redeployed in areas where they are currently being replaced by Afghan troops not currently engaged in shooting them in the back.

Look, as you can see I’m struggling to play a straight bat here, it appeared to me that Biden was clearly winning it. Whatever points Ryan made, he didn’t manage to pin Biden in the way Biden caught him.

Towards the end however, Biden began to falter, as Ryan’s superior physical energy began to win out (attended by the consumption of a frightening amount of water, much remarked through Twitter, and the notion that he would soon start pissing like a horse under the table). On abortion, well, neither side was going to win anyone from the other side over, but Ryan managed to give a snappier if more nauseatingly-sentimental version — though Biden also managed to focus his side’s energies through the pure fear of what would happen, should future Supreme Court justices be appointed by a Romney-Ryan ticket. Ryan also managed to snap out a more forceful ending, as Biden stumbled on his words — but the latter still managed to get in a swipe about Romney’s “47%” remarks — “that’s my mother and father Mitt Romney was talking about, that’s soldiers in the field”. It was a reprise but may be a telling one.

There’s no way I could call it as other than a victory for Biden, but it seems that the pundits scored it that way too — on Faux News, there was near total focus on the presentation of the candidates and how likeable they were. There was a priceless shot of Sean Hannity looking visibly pissed off, as Fox’s own focus group failed to call the debate for Ryan. While Fox commentators got the vapours over Boden’s “rudeness” — fancy! — on left-leaning MSNBC, they were pretty ecstatic, certainly compared to the last outing.

A CBS snap poll of independents seemed to confirm that opinion, giving the debate to Biden 50% to Ryan 31% — nothing like the Romney win over Obama, but a win nevertheless. Now it will be a question of who wins the spin, and whether Obama can channel enough of Biden’s edge in the next presidential debate, on Tuesday — the last chance for him to assail Romney’s economic plans, and quite possibly the most important night of his life.

7
  • 1
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 12 October 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    I agree. On anything substantive Biden won. But one has to hand it to Ryan. He has that sickening talent to smile sweetly and aim those baby-blue eyes at the camera while speaking utter crap, not providing any credible figures (math) to his claims of balancing budgets, across the board 20% tax cuts, “reforming” Medicare and SS while no one at all will suffer a penny.

    On the tax cuts for middle classes, Ryan repeatedly claimed that 53% of small businesses would suffer increased taxes under the Dems while Biden had to interrupt with the information that 97% of small businesses had incomes under the Dems $250k threshold. One would have thought Biden should have won that on truthiness but Ryan lied convincingly (to those who simply don’t pay attention).

    I think Biden was right when at several points in response to this tidal wave of claim without any detail (which the host Martha clearly also observed) simply appealed to American common sense about who they could trust on these issues.

    Biden did pretty well on all issues but perhaps could have been even stronger on Iran (though he repeated his points several times): even the day of the debates the news is of Iran under financial and political pressure. I think he should have made more of his own long, long involvement in defense and foreign security matters and told Ryan that it is not as simple as he seems to believe; it is tricky because Americans don’t like to hear anything other than unilateral American dominance and war mongering but there was a lost opportunity to stress how the Obama admin has worked very well with the rest of the world (and as Biden said: “It matters”) whereas Romney has gone around the world blundering in every foreign capital, and Ryan is a barely informed on any of it.

    On Ryan crap about not giving details because they would work it out in bipartisan meetings in Congress, no amount of open disdain could have been too much: Biden should have rammed home how totally obstructionist the Repubs have been. Biden actually got in a Kennedy reference which brought a smile, but here he should have repeated his story of partaking in the Reagan roundtable meetings and said that no living Republican was like Reagan in that regard.

    On ObamaCare, unless I somehow missed it (the debate got a bit loud and shouty at one point with all three overtalking) Biden didn’t correct Ryan with the important point: the $700bn savings come from health-care providers, not Medicare beneficiaries.

    But, at the end, almost all GOPers and all Dems would have been left unchanged. And probably the floating voters also unmoved. I think this has brought Biden’s competence and appeal to a wider audience but this Veep debate will probably have little if any impact on the wider race. Too bad.

    But perhaps correctly so. Obama is the man, and if he cannot bring it home half as robustly as his veep then …. oh, oh. I forgot. NUBO.

  • 2
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 12 October 2012 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    2 hrs in mod which means the weekend I suppose.

    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 12 October 2012 at 4:59 pm | PERMALINK
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    I agree. On anything substantive Biden won. But one has to hand it to Ryan. He has that sickening talent to smile sweetly and aim those baby-blue eyes at the camera while speaking utter crap, not providing any credible figures (math) to his claims of balancing budgets, across the board 20% tax cuts, “reforming” Medicare and SS while no one at all will suffer a penny.

    On the tax cuts for middle classes, Ryan repeatedly claimed that 53% of small businesses would suffer increased taxes under the Dems while Biden had to interrupt with the information that 97% of small businesses had incomes under the Dems $250k threshold. One would have thought Biden should have won that on truthiness but Ryan l ied convincingly (to those who simply don’t pay attention).

    I think Biden was right when at several points in response to this tidal wave of claim without any detail (which the host Martha clearly also observed) simply appealed to American common sense about who they could trust on these issues.

  • 3
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 12 October 2012 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Part 2

    Biden did pretty well on all issues but perhaps could have been even stronger on Iran (though he repeated his points several times): even the day of the debates the news is of Iran under financial and political pressure. I think he should have made more of his own long, long involvement in defense and foreign security matters and told Ryan that it is not as simple as he seems to believe; it is tricky because Americans don’t like to hear anything other than unilateral American dominance and war mongering but there was a lost opportunity to stress how the Obama admin has worked very well with the rest of the world (and as Biden said: “It matters”) whereas Romney has gone around the world blundering in every foreign capital, and Ryan is a barely informed on any of it.

    On Ryan crap about not giving details because they would work it out in bipartisan meetings in Congress, no amount of open disdain could have been too much: Biden should have rammed home how totally obstructionist the Repubs have been. Biden actually got in a Kennedy reference which brought a smile, but here he should have repeated his story of partaking in the Reagan roundtable meetings and said that no living Republican was like Reagan in that regard.

    On ObamaCare, unless I somehow missed it (the debate got a bit loud and shouty at one point with all three overtalking) Biden didn’t correct Ryan with the important point: the $700bn savings come from health-care providers, not Medicare beneficiaries.

    But, at the end, almost all GOPers and all Dems would have been left unchanged. And probably the floating voters also unmoved. I think this has brought Biden’s competence and appeal to a wider audience but this Veep debate will probably have little if any impact on the wider race. Too bad.

    But perhaps correctly so. Obama is the man, and if he cannot bring it home half as robustly as his veep then …. oh, oh. I forgot. NUBO.

  • 4
    michael r james
    Posted Saturday, 13 October 2012 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    Hey GR, ABC’s Lisa Millar filed her Lateline report (shown tonight Friday) from a bar in Cleveland too. Must be where the Press bus ended up?

  • 5
    mary singh
    Posted Saturday, 13 October 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Biden showed the Whole world what the Democrat Party people are like.He was a great representive of that party,Showing his teeth,Arrogrance ,and Bullying and demeaning tactics.If that does not hurt the Obama run nothing will..

  • 6
    michael r james
    Posted Saturday, 13 October 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    mary singh

    As many commentators have noted across dozens of newspapers and blogs, when Conservatives win a debate they hi-five and yell yipeekaiyai from the rooftops while the Democrats go into self-analysis and self-recrimination mode.

    When the Conservatives lose a battle or debate they blame the moderator, the lamestream media, the distorted opinion polls and call the Democrat a bully thug. It’s kinda funny.

    You have confirmed the stereotype. Thank you.
    (This site is really not the one you should be reading. There is no end of such sites across the Pacific but for local try Greg Sheridan today who has made himself more ridiculous than usual not an easy task.)

  • 7
    Holden Back
    Posted Monday, 15 October 2012 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    But Greg Sheridan thought Ryan won … .

    So it must be true.

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